It’s no secret that the mobile app landscape has become extremely competitive. Over the last few years, this has led to an incredible amount of innovation and progress, but the cost of visibility — of acquiring new users — is also on the rise. In fact, Fiksu found that the cost of acquiring users hit a record high in December. While December is a critical month for app discovery, it remained to be seen whether or not this trend would continue.
Today, W3i, the monetization and distribution network for app developers, released new user acquisition figures for the first half of 2012, and the results tell the same story and are worrying for developers. Assessing hundreds of millions of mobile users from January to June 2012, W3i found that the average cost-per-install (of CPI) of mobile apps increased by 70 percent on Android and by 56 percent on iOS.
By June, the cost-per-install on Android had risen from $0.30 to $0.51, while iOS CPI has increased from $0.59 to $0.92.
W3i attributed this increase, in part, to mobile gaming giants like DeNA have entered the U.S. market, a prime example of the fact that, for the first time, billion-dollar companies are now competing with small to mid-sized developers. As free-to-play giants leverage their huge marketing budgets to help attract new users, the overall cost of user acquisition has increased — making it increasingly difficult for developers who are trying to make a living in apps.
“The entire user acquisition market is undergoing a sea change that will require mobile developers to re-think how they obtain and monetize their users,” said Robert Weber, co-founder of W3i. “This could be the ‘innovate or die’ moment for a lot of developers as the competition for mobile users continues to heat up.”
Many were surprised when popular Mac and iOS email client Sparrow recently exited to Google. Considering that the Sparrow team was widely respected, the app had risen to popularity, and the team had raised a seed round from some notable investors, it seemed a somewhat disappointing result.
The team behind iOS development startup, AppCubby, recently penned a post talking about what it called “The Sparrow problem” and the challenges facing indie mobile developers.
Here’s an excerpt:
… Things have definitely changed and Sparrow is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The age of selling software to users at a fixed, one-time price is coming to an end. It’s just not sustainable at the absurdly low prices users have come to expect. Sure, independent developers may scrap it out one app at a time, and some may even do quite well and be the exception to the rule, but I don’t think Sparrow would have sold-out if the team — and their investors — believed they could build a substantially profitable company on their own. The gold rush is well and truly over.
AppCubby’s conclusion, mixed with this news from W3i, points to the hard truth that, going forward, developers will likely have to consider new alternatives to marketing. W3i recommends that developers focus on designing apps for strong monetization to optimize their ability to compete, along with making paid buys during focused time windos to magnify chart rankings. And, since cost rises with volume in this market, there’s still hope for beating the average rates by producing titles in less-saturated areas.
Meanwhile, W3i said that, for the most part, social app discovery is still an unproven method for developers, with Facebook’s App Center still new to the market and Apple’s App Store becoming increasingly competitive. But social mechanics will become increasingly important going forward.
Iris Shoor also recently penned a post for TechCrunch talking about the approach she and her team took to marketing their app, and how they used non-traditional marketing tactics to get to 10 million downloads, including getting customer stories and testimonials and creating direct channels to their users.
W3i also noted that, like we saw from Fiksu’s analysis in December, the value of new users jumps even more during long weekends. Unsurprisingly, the company found that holiday weekends are high in advertiser demand, with rates increasing by 65 percent over the 2012 Memorial Day Weekend, for example, with some CPI rates even more than quadrupling the industry standard.